By leveraging AI to design a streamlined, ‘hyper-personalised’ candidate interface, the talent acquisition team at KPMG has cut down time to hire by 20 per cent – and reduced employee turnover in the process.
As Australian businesses emerged from the throes of COVID-19 in late 2021, Australia’s unemployment rate sat at its lowest level since the 1970s.
For talent acquisition professionals, this economic environment spelled trouble. A dearth of qualified candidates flipped the script for recruiters, forcing them to cast their nets wider and proactively pursue talent rather than waiting for it to land on their doorsteps.
In this buyer’s market, many employers were prompted to reevaluate the recruitment journey for their applicants – because, with more employment options and less competition, what would motivate a candidate to navigate a long and convoluted application process?
This was a question that the recruitment team at global professional services organisation KPMG asked themselves when evaluating its regular recruitment practices two years ago.
At the time, the organisation’s recruitment process involved 19 disparate systems and a 47-step onboarding process. Just five per cent of the process was automated, and onboarding for new employees took between 89 and 156 days to complete.
Recognising the need for a fresh approach, the talent acquisition team, led by Rob Dunderdale, Head of Talent Attraction at KPMG Australia, conceived a revamped, AI-powered recruitment and onboarding process to enhance and accelerate the application journey.
“We were trying to simplify and digitise a candidate-first approach,” says Dunderdale. “Our vision was to deliver talent to the business faster, easier and with purpose.
“It was an opportunity to take stock of a process that had organically grown over decades into something that was really uncontrollable, and wasn’t focused on the candidate – and it really needs to be in the tight talent market we’re working in.”
The initiative his team rolled out to achieve this, the Talent Attraction and Recruitment Reimagined (TARR) program, has succeeded in optimising recruitment, reducing employee turnover and bolstering stakeholder engagement with the help of AI and automation.
In recognition of the project’s achievements, KPMG has been named a finalist for AHRI’s 2023 Best Use of Technology Award, which will be announced at a ceremony in Sydney next month.
Learn more about this year’s AHRI Awards here.
The power of AI in talent acquisition
This year, the pressure for recruitment professionals to understand and leverage the capabilities of AI and automation has grown stronger by the day.
According to a report by Aptitude Research, almost three quarters (73 per cent) of companies increased their investments in talent acquisition technology last year. Seven in 10 employers said they planned to continue to invest the same amount or increase their investment in talent acquisition tech in the coming years, even in the event of an economic recession.
However, the rollout of AI in this field has not been without obstacles; research shows less than half of Australians trust the use of generative AI at work.
So how can employers incorporate this technology into their recruitment strategies without putting potential candidates off?
According to Dunderdale, this means ensuring that AI and automation are used to enhance – not replace – meaningful candidate interactions.
“From a recruitment perspective, it’s taken away the mundane,” he says. “The administration of our process is now automated, which has done two things. Firstly, it has pushed capacity back into a really constrained system. So now my team can focus on what really matters – and that is conversations with our business groups and conversations with candidates. [Secondly], it’s helped improve risk and compliance, which is an area of growing complexity across the employment landscape as new legislations come in and out of the system.”
The development of the TARR program was assisted by consultation with a range of relevant stakeholders to ensure that they were not only supportive of the project but also excited by its possibilities.
Among the AI-powered initiatives rolled out as part of the program, one of the most successful has been ‘Scout’, KPMG’s purpose-built candidate chatbot.
“[Scout] is open 24/7,” says Dunderdale. “You can ask them any questions, and they will give you a sense of what life is like at KPMG. We’re starting to see a lot more applicants coming directly through the chatbot; it allows us to focus the recruiter’s time on the points of the process that are really important – the interview stage, the phone screening, the offer stage.
“It’s created this environment of hyper-personalisation for us. So we speak to [candidates] as individuals, we can push content that [they] have asked to see. And we can scale that up to the hundreds of thousands of people that apply to us around the world.”
The personalisation power of AI has allowed the team to make their practices more accessible. For instance, Scout allows people living with disabilities an opportunity to share details about their disability and interview with the proper support needed, demonstrating the company’s commitment to inclusion from their very first interaction.
Another way in which the TARR project has improved the candidate experience is through trimming the fat from the application process, providing a more streamlined and user-friendly interface.
For example, since TARR’s implementation, 44 unnecessary questions have been purged from the application process – it now takes around two minutes for a candidate to apply for a role.
“Recruitment can be a very reactive game. You’re often not given much time to build a strategy around what the market is telling you. So the ability to move quickly, and get to candidates before anybody else [does], is also driving those commercial outcomes,” says Dunderdale.
“We’ve done a lot of work to align the AI to our core values and purpose as an organisation,” says Dunderdale. “And it is a system that will learn over time.”
Assessing the impact of AI-driven recruitment
Prospective candidates are not the only ones benefiting from the success of the TARR program; by reducing time to hire by 20 per cent, the team is pumping huge amounts of efficient time back into the business every year.
For employees, the impact of the program extends far beyond the recruitment and onboarding stages. Since TARR was rolled out in 2022, staff turnover at the organisation has dropped roughly nine percentage points.
The team puts this down to the fact that a better recruitment experience means candidates are hired into the correct teams and have a more supportive onboarding experience, meaning they start off with the best chance of success in the organisation.
“AI has allowed us, in some respects, to treat human beings more like human beings, because it’s taking away the stuff that was drowning us in admin and allowing us to have those [important] conversations, check in and see how they’re going,” says Dunderdale.
The TARR project has assisted over 40,000 candidates through the application process so far. Having championed its success, the team is now investigating other ways that AI and automation could be used to transform the recruitment landscape.
“I would love to push us into an environment where we assess you less on your past and more on your future potential, so it becomes less about the role you’ve just had and more about how well you align with our values and our behaviours – [as well as] your skills, your potential and where we could put them. And utilising AI to build that picture for us is something I would like to explore.”
For Dunderdale, the team’s nomination for AHRI’s Best Use of Technology Award is the cherry on top of a hugely successful endeavour in a challenging arena.
“We ask so much of recruiters these days. It’s an industry that significantly changed. And I think it’s an industry that’s significantly grown in importance.
“It’s not an easy gig – it’s feast or famine, all of the time. So it’s nice to be able to recognise and celebrate the awesome work that the team does.”
Don’t miss your chance to attend this year’s AHRI Awards celebration, hosted in Sydney. Reconnect with your HR peers and celebrate the hard work that has gone into helping organisations to be prepared for new ways of working. Register now.